In middle school, there was a magazine drive every year. To motivate us to sell, we were given ‘weevils’ — multicolored fuzzy pom-poms with googly eyes and stick-on feet worth exactly nothing — for each magazine subscription sold. It worked on me.
But, while I was a spoiled child able to convince my mother to subscribe, I was an utter failure outside of my house. That’s why she still has half a bookshelf full of National Geographics that we leafed through at best. They were too pretty to recycle. “We’ll read them someday.” That was more than ten years ago.
Sometimes I find a copy of Reader’s Digest under furniture or at the bottom of a box. Those I devoured cover to cover. I think my mother took the title too literally, imagining that each one contained summaries of great books that she didn’t actually want to read. They didn’t, so that ended her interest in them.
I’m not sure why I found them so fascinating, but now I think it’s because they represented what’s at the heart of White America. What does that even mean. Stories of miraculous recoveries from being coated with hot tar, heartwarming stories about giant but gentle bulls, a page of jokes sent in from military families… 20/20 on paper. Engineered to appeal to the least common denominator. Simple and sensationalist. After your heartstrings without being informative.
I was 12 and I knew that they were full of nonsense, but that didn’t stop me from reading every page. I wish I felt the same way about useful texts.